On poems and things

I am not a poet. Many years ago I wasm a poet. While in kindergarten I composed my first and last poetic masterpiece. I wish I were a fish Sitting in a dish. If Daddy were a trout I would shout and shout!

It was never published, but my teache r read it out loud to the class and it was well received. She even showed it to my parents, and although my mother was ecstatic, my father -- as befits an Englishman of the stiff-upper-lip-and-all-that school -- kept his emotions deeply in check.

I had the visions of becoming a great poet and earning lots of pennies. I had, of course, somewhat naive ideas about the value of good literature; also, of course, the penny was worth considerably more than it is nowadays!

However it was not to be.

In my thoughts, I over-rated poets, I imagined strong, silent, passionate men , pacing their lonely garrets, trying to find words to rhyme with philanthropicallym or zempoaltepetlm or even those frightful Welsh place names that nobody can pronouce unless he is a Welshman. Moreover, I had heard of "poetic license" and I thougt that perhaps one had to be of somewhat maturer years before one could apply for a license.

Later I conveyed these misgivings to a poet whom I knew, and he muttered something about writing "unrhymed iambic pentameter verse." I never did understand him, but later still I couldn't help noticing that poems were changing.

No longer did poets bother to compose neat little poems like my "I wish I were a fish." Their compositions would meander down a page like a mountain stream. They seemed determined to take up as much space as possible. I wondered why.

In conversation with a friend about one Charles Dickens, a British writer of some repute, I learned that originally Dickens was paid by the line. That explains why his "A Christmas Carol" contains passages like this:

"Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster: . . . "

And he calls Marsley's ghost, "An undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato . . . "

Light dawned.

The secret long treasured by professional poets was revealed to me; I intend to make it public without delay.

Poets are now paid by the line!m

That is why, you see, they try to elongate their compositions.

If I were writing my "I wish I were a fish" now -- in 1980 -- it would probably go like this: I wish I were a fish Sitting in a dish. If Daddy were a trout, I would shout and shout!

Very cleverly, I have converted four lines into twelve, thus tripling the earning power of this poetic composition. There is only one thing I need to know before I embark upon a new career.

Where does one go to obtain a poetic license?

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